Those collecting the set of Scandinavian countries from which mordant and elegantly grisly crime thrillers have originated in recent times can now tick off Norway. Following in the wake of Sweden’s Wallender and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Denmark’s The Killing, Headhunters, an adaptation of the novel by Jo Nesbø, once again features gruesome murders, betrayals, dark secrets and suspenseful games of cat-and-mouse, but it has a distinctive tone of its own that makes it well worth checking out: more dynamic, funnier and with an intricate twisty plot that delights as elements click into place unexpectedly.
Typical of the unpredictable nature of the film is the way that the first half hour or so sets up a world of wealthy businessmen and high-powered executive dealing that gives no hint of the physical peril and extraordinary ordeals that lead character Roger Brown (a curiously British sounding name for a Norwegian) will later go through. He’s a recruitment agent – the headhunter of the title – who bankrolls his unsustainably opulent lifestyle via a little art theft on the side, and one’s initial impression is that this going to be a classy caper movie, what with the cat-burglar outfits and the dodging round hi-tech security systems. Things become significantly less civilised however when Roger tries to reel in a ruthless former mercenary who has access both to serious weaponry and a terrifyingly ingenious GPS tracking system, from which there appears to be no escape. Roger’s an intelligent and resourceful man, but he’s not really cut out for this kind of fieldwork and a series of bloody and messy episodes punctuate his desperate attempts to get off the map. These sequences are in turn gripping, stomach-turning, very funny and downright shocking, reminiscent both of Tarantino in the way that bad situations always seem to suddenly get much worse, and Hitchcock, for the skill with which director Morten Tyldum gets one to identify with the hunted man and guides one through some pretty fiddly plot-points. Aksel Hennie excels in the unusually demanding lead role: despite some voiceover at the start and end of the film he’s often having to communicate his character’s inner feelings through facial expression and physical acting and believe me, you really do feel his pain at times.
Headhunters is at times wince-making and times wildly enjoyable but it’s never boring and it manages to tie everything up by the end much more satisfyingly than your average noir, and with no cheesy wisecracking either. I laughed, I gasped and I’m staying clear of outhouses in the woods and winding cliff-edge roads from now on.